Last weekend, NATO’s Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, told Europe’s NATO members that Europe risked becoming a paper tiger unless it invested more in its own defense. Struggling under the weight of the kind of social spending programs that the Obama Administration is determined to impose on the United States, most of Europe has consistently shortchanged its defense requirements. Countries such as Germany, Italy and Spain spend less than two percent of their gross domestic product on defense. Even those countries that have achieved a reasonable level of defense spending in the past, notably Great Britain and France, are on the brink of making catastrophic cuts in their defense budgets to finance bloated social welfare programs.
Rasmussen warned that Europe risked appearing unwilling to make a commitment to its own security. Many Europeans don’t see a danger to their security in the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse. There is an almost willful turning of a blind eye to the near-term danger of proliferation. The Secretary General warned that if Teheran were to complete its current ballistic missile programs, including its recently-tested SAFIR 2 space-launch vehicle, “then the whole of the European continent, as well as all of Russia would be in range.”
One thing that Europe should do, Rasmussen argued, is invest in missile defense. “Missile defense,” he asserted, “might be one key area whereby the Europeans can demonstrate such commitment… and also demonstrate to the American public that the alliance is relevant.” Such a system would go a long way to devaluing the threat that Iranian ballistic missiles already pose to portions of Southeastern Europe. In addition, a willingness to invest in a comprehensive missile defense system would send a powerful “political signal” to friends and potential adversaries alike. “Proliferators must know that we are unwavering in our determination to collective defense,” Rasmussen said.
The United States should welcome the Secretary General’s effort to invigorate the Euro-Atlantic security architecture by pursuing a comprehensive missile defense system. The United States has proposed deploying theater missile defenses based on its proven Aegis ballistic missile defense system in Southeast Europe. Such a system would serve as a key piece of what the United States conceives of as a tailored, regional deterrent. The same argument Rasmussen is making on behalf of Europe can be applied to the Middle East, South Asia and Northeast Asia.
More important, regional missile defense shields could serve as a pillar of a new U.S.-led global security architecture. Such an architecture would be based on a solid core of advanced military capabilities in areas such as integrated air and missile defense, ISR, local sea control and precision strike in the hands of U.S. allies. The model of a comprehensive European missile defense could be extended to the Persian Gulf region where U.S. allies are today acquiring Patriot PAC-3 and THAAD missile systems and Northeast Asia where the United States and Japan are co-developing the advanced Standard Missile 3 Block IIB missile interceptor. For its part, the United States would both serve as a source of these advanced military systems and provide critical enablers such as long-range sensors, mobile defenses, and space control.
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